SPACE BATTLES Author Profile: Meet Simon C. Larter

The third story in Space Battles is the third anthology sale for Author Simon C. Larter. A construction worker by day, who describes himself better than I ever could as: “Flash fiction specialist and writer of short stories that range from depressing to violent and depressing. Not a poet. Novelist-in-the-making. Tragic aesthete and lover of martinis. A tad ornery, most days.” He’s also a respected expert (at least in his own mind) on Vodka, of which he is an unabashed fan. Larter’s other stories can be found in the anthologies Notes From The Underground and Short Story America, Volume 1. A husband and father based in New Jersey, Larter can be found on Twitter as @simonclarter, at Facebook or via his blog/website at www.simonclarter.com.

BTS: How did you find out about the Space Battles anthology and what made you decide to submit?

Simon C. Larter: I found out about the Space Battles anthology through some guy I met on Twitter and then at World Fantasy Convention in 2010. He turned out to be the editor. Win!

 BTS: This is your first science fiction anthology sale, correct? Tell us a little about “Like So Much Refuse.” What’s it about? Where’d this particular idea come from?

SCL: Yes. “Like So Much Refuse” started out as a much longer story, but was mercilessly hacked down to meet the word count requirements of the antho. I’d wanted to tell a multiple-POV story that highlighted the senseless slaughter of war while avoiding the traditional “good” protagonist and “bad” antagonist trope. I lost a lot of dead bodies in the editing process, but still tried to maintain a kind of moral ambiguity when it came to the two main characters. Rarely is war about moral absolutes, and I wanted to explore that idea in a futuristic setting. Also, I just liked the idea of guerilla warfare in space.

BTS: How’d you get started as a writer?

SCL: I wrote for most of my life, up through high school, but got all practical in my first run of college and decided to get an engineering degree. (Something about being able to make a decent living really appealed to me, I guess.) It took a helluva long time, during which I wrote next to nothing, but I eventually got that degree. The last liberal arts class I took before graduating, though, was a fiction writing course. It lit the fire in me again, and I’ve been writing ever since.

BTS: Do you have plans to do any more with this universe?

SCL: Nah. This was a one-shot deal. The Outworlders are just going to fall to squabbling amongst themselves after the fall of the Confederation anyway, and how much fun is it to write about squabbles?

BTS: Where’d your love of SF come from?

SCL: I would read anything and everything as a child, if it looked even remotely like fantasy or science fiction. Probably the first sci-fi I ever read was Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet, but I’ve devoured everything from Brian Aldiss’s Helliconia series to Tad Williams’ Otherland books since then. Anything that lets me escape into another world for a while is okay in my book.

BTS: What are your writing goals? Full time? Novelist? Short story writer? All of the above?

SCL: I’d love to supplement the dayjob income with novel sales, and the occasional short story or flash fiction publication. Writing full time, of course, would be the ideal, but I’d be happy with enough extra money to keep me in vacations and vodka. You know how it is.

BTS: What other projects do you have in the works that we can look forward to?

SCL: I’ve a spec-fic novella in the works for a friend’s micropress, and a noir novella that’s almost submission-ready. After those are loose in the world, it’s back to the full-length novels, with occasional forays into shorter fiction when the mood strikes me. Which I’m sure will be often. Apparently the ideas don’t stop just because you don’t have time to write them all. Why is that, anyway?

Here’s an excerpt from “Like So Much Refuse,” Simon’s thrilling adventure about a saboteur taking on an experienced Admiral and her crew: 

Like So Much Refuse

Simon C. Larter

Engel left the airlock at a dead run and leaped outward, snapping his body rigid as he plunged into open space. He felt the vibration in his chest as he engaged the thrustpack, the shift in direction. Below him, the Galaxy gleamed dully in the light from the distant star at the center of the system. Its exhaust cones, black and mountainous, bulged from its aftsection: his destination. He triggered the thrusters again, briefly, then settled into the drop, the only sound in his ears the mild hiss of his rebreather and the crackle of the propaganda transmission from the distant command ship.

Behind him, his shuttle’s autopilot engaged—flames flared in Engel’s peripheral vision—and then shut off, the tiny
Mark IV shorthopper drifting out and away from the planet’s
gravitational field and 
the starcruiser’s light guns. He’d watched
several of his comrades’ 
ships strobe space with their atoms as he
made his approach run.
Damn amateurs, he thought. Who trained
them, anyway?

But now there was nothing for him to do but plummet planetward,
watching as the Galaxy grew ever larger through the visor of his helmet.
His jaw tightened as he let his gaze glide across the gun batteries
and launch tubes ranked along the cruiser’s broad flanks. How many
lives had those weapons snuffed out? How many friends had tasted
vacuum because of them?

No more, he thought grimly. It ends tonight. If not me, another
will make it through.

Explosions winked in the darkness like static sparks as the Galaxy’s
flak guns opened fire in earnest. The city-sized exhaust cones loomed
closer. Engel grinned.

***
“It’s nothing but small craft, sir,” the scanner tech said. He turned
in his seat to regard the Admiral. “They come almost within flak range
then peel off or go adrift. Most of them are short-hop, single-man
shuttles, too. Not even interceptors.”

Admiral Johanna Stanche ran stiff fingers through her graying,
close-cropped hair and glared at the tactical projection at the far end
of the bridge. The threatening twinges that had been spiking the base
of her skull for the past two hours were coalescing into a serious headache.
She grimaced and kneaded the back of her neck. “Shuttles,” she
repeated.

“Yes, sir. The light cruisers and corvettes are keeping well back.”

“They’re testing our defenses,” Commander Martin Vandermeer
said. “Feeling us out.”

Stanche glanced toward him. A good man, she thought. Textbook
leader, but terminally lacking in imagination. For a moment, she
allowed herself to miss Marta’s sharp mind and ready grin, her
quiet support. But Vice-Admiral Marta Janowik had been killed three
months ago when the second to last remaining Confederation starcruiser
had been blasted to particles by the betrayers’ fusion bombs,
shredded and scattered like so much refuse. Now the Galaxy was the
last symbol of a dying dream, she the dream’s last line of defense.
Vandermeer’s stolid face was set in a scowl as he watched the
shuttles drifting in the TAC, an image winking out every so often as
the flak guns did their work. Beyond the swarm of small craft, hovering
at the edge of scanner range, the larger ships crouched, spider-like,
a promise of violence to come. And at the center of the projection,
the lifeless bulk of planet Arturus K-384 spun slowly on its axis, the
Galaxy a silver shard in its orbit.

“What’s the lower limit of our scanners?” the Admiral asked
suddenly.

“Sir?”

“Minimum energy signature. Craft size. What’s the smallest thing
they’re set to detect?”

The scanner tech turned to face her again. “Two meters, perhaps,
sir? Energy sig about half a kilowatt.”

“Dammit,” Stanche muttered. Then, “Dial it down. Fifty
centimeters and one hundred Watts. Do it now.” She turned to
Vandermeer. “And scramble the Falcons. All of them. Set the scanners
to rescue mode.”

“Admiral?”

“They’re jet-jockeying in, Vandermeer. Get those Falcons in the
mix, now!”

The Commander saluted crisply and turned to bark orders into the
nearest comm console. Stanche watched as the TAC image blurred,
then resolved into sharper focus once more. She clenched her jaw.
“There you are,” she said softly.

Between the ranks of light craft and the Galaxy, hundreds—perhaps
thousands—of small, humanoid shapes were closing on the starcruiser,
a diffuse, insidious wave.

“Recal the flak guns,” the Admiral said through her teeth. “Set the
bursts to go off closer. I want those jumpers vaporized.”

The bridge snapped into activity as her orders were relayed. On
the TAC, the slight, deadly shapes of the Falcon interceptors began
to appear, streaking out of the launch bays to chart a course for the
incoming enemy.

“Nice try, you sneaky bastards,” she said under her breath. “But
not good enough.”

***
Engel kept his arms tucked tight to his sides as he plummeted
toward the immense engine cowls at the rear of the cruiser—minimum
cross-section. Since his first jetbursts, he’d avoided using the
thrusters—minimum heat signature. With his right hand, he touched
the sleek bulk of the microfusion bomb strapped to his thigh and
grinned through gritted teeth—maximum damage.

The exhaust cones loomed large in his visor. The range numbers
in his HUD spun down so fast they blurred. He turned his head briefly
to watch pointillist flashes of strafe-fire rake through what he knew
was the main drop zone. The kill rate there had to be staggering. He
grimaced. “Requiem in pacem,” he murmured. “Poor bastards.” He
watched for a moment longer, then turned back to regard his target.
It expanded rapidly in front of him, a mountain of metal, coldwelded,
beaten and hardened to withstand the rigors of deep space and
warp travel. When the engines fired, the heat rippling from the metallic
skin would be enough to flash-fry human blood at a distance of a
quarter kilometer. But they were not firing now, and if all went well,
they would fire only once more: to end it. The technology that had enabled
the Confederation would be the means to its final destruction.

He engaged the thrusters, then executed a sustained burn that leadweighted
his body and sent him surging sideways. The blackened edge
of the exhaust cone shot past in his peripheral vision. Engel snapped
his torso forward, jackknifing to switch directions, and cranked the
thrustpack to full. The suddenness of the deceleration rattled his teeth
and tunneled his vision, but when the burn finished, he was floating
again, weightless, staring at a gigantic maw of blistered metal.
He feathered the thrusters once more, pushing himself into the
cavernous space. Tension he didn’t know he’d been retaining drained
from his shoulders as he drifted forward; there were no strafing batteries
in the exhausts. For the moment, he was safe—as safe as anyone could
be while hovering in front of something that produced sun-hot gas and
enough power to propel a million tons of metal death through space.
The deep dark of the exhaust cone swallowed Engel. He was a
glimmer, a speck against its immensity—a speck bearing death. The
bomb at his hip seemed to pulse with potential.

***
The muted buzz of proximity alarms and penetration alerts was
almost constant now, each one a spike in Admiral Stanche’s throbbing
skull. On the TAC, the rain of small craft and jumpers continued,
an unending wave of attackers. The Falcons were carving huge
swaths of destruction through the attack, wiping out jumpers in their
tens, hundreds, yet the assault continued.

And—more worrying—out beyond the thousand and one small
craft, the corvettes and light cruisers were beginning to edge closer.
It didn’t make sense, any way you cut it, she thought. The losses
were staggering on their part. Did they really have so many lives to
throw away? Even in the assault on the central planets they hadn’t
wasted soldiers like this. It was a distraction; it had to be. So what was
coming next?

“How many penetrations now?” she asked.

“One hundred and twelve,” Vandermeer responded without turning.

“All neutralized.”

“Check and recheck every error message in the system. Any other
anomalies, I want to know about them.”

The techs bent again to their work. The Admiral wiped the moisture
from the corners of her eyes with thumb and forefinger, wishing
her headache would subside. But the meds that took the edge off also
felt like they dulled her mind. She couldn’t afford that on a good day.
This was not a good day.

She walked over to lean down next to Vandermeer. “It’s a covering
maneuver,” she said, speaking for his ears alone. “Otherwise it’s
just throwing away lives.”

He glanced sideways at her. “Yes, sir.”

“I get the feeling we’re not going to like what they’re trying to
distract us from.”

“No, sir,” he said. Then, after a pause, “There’s some alerts from
the aft beam injectors. Channel integrity monitors are showing a break
or two. We get those regularly, though—those systems are touchy.”
Stanche didn’t hesitate. “Run a full scan anyway, and get teams on
the way there. Reroute the maintenance bots to those locations. I want
their camera feeds piped here directly.”

Vandermeer saluted. The Admiral nodded a brief acknowledgement
and returned to her station once more. Over a hundred hull penetrations,
she thought. They were getting through. She was going to start losing
people soon, if this went on—a further fraying of the Confederation’s
last tattered shreds. And they had no choice left but to continue fighting.
Every man and woman aboard knew what the PLM did with survivors.
Every channel in the galaxy had broadcast the fate of the Constellation.
She’d had friends on that ship.

“Nav,” she said, still staring at the TAC, “prep the mains. I want
those engines hot and ready.” There was a surprise coming, she knew
it. Perhaps it would be better if they didn’t stick around to find out
what it was. Live to fight another day, she thought wearily.

***
The glow of melting metal hummed in Engel’s peripheral vision
as he floated, weightless, near an injection port at the rear of the blast
chamber. If he engaged the zoom lens on his helmetcam and squinted
back the way he’d come, he could just see the tiny case of the microfusion
bomb where it hung in the chamber’s center, anchored by several
thousand meters of now-invisible fiber. The setup had been painstaking,
but he’d taken more than the necessary time, checking and doublechecking
the location, the connections. To come so far and fail due to
a foolish mistake would be inexcusable. He turned back to watch the
white-hot metal cool to red, the last shreds of his thermocord graying
and flaking to dust.

A circular chunk of alloy loosened and drifted away from the
exhaust cone wall. Engel batted it aside and leaned close, flicking
his miniflood to life. A beam of light pierced the darkness, hazed
by residual gas from the vaporized metal, and gleamed on the walls
of the injection port beyond. He played the floodlight over the blank,
metalloid walls for a moment, then reached forward and pulled himself
through the hole.

Reaching for the second thermocord coiled at his waist, Engel laid
it in place on the wall and retreated into the immense dark once more.
White heat lit the tunnel and triggered the autodim on his visor. When
it had subsided, he placed his palms on the melted metal edge of the
hole and drifted into the port again. Now the miniflood illuminated a
ragged, empty circle in the polished perfection of the injector—beyond
it a near impenetrable tangle of ducts, wiring, coolant hoses. He
slipped through the hole, twisting to avoid the thin traces of sensor
wire, and reached for the floating disc of metal set loose by the thermocord
burn through.

Turning, he replaced the disc in its hole and began to weld it back
in place. Wouldn’t be a perfect repair, he thought, but Command had
been clear: it only needed to hold for a few seconds. Once the subatomic
stream hit the burn chamber, the bomb he’d planted would do
its work in short order. The major portion of his job was complete.

And should the bombs fail to work as designed? There was
always plan B.

Through the dark plastic of his visor he watched the spitting,
sparking light of his welding arc trace its slow circle, a countdown
clockface, measuring the minutes until the end of it all.

Continued in Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which you can purchase here starting now (preorders end April 17).

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